The host and co-executive producer of the Travel Channel’s Bizarre Foods With Andrew Zimmern has a few not-so-bizarre ways to persuade kids to eat better. He should know. Zimmern and his son have shared meals of — get this — bats and dung beetles.
He has the following words of wisdom for parents who want their children 1) to eat more, say, vegetables and 2) to reduce their family’s impact on the local and global food systems. Zimmern believes that preserving “the global buffet from which we eat” is crucial if future generations are to survive.
The following is excerpted from an internet posting that Zimmern wrote.
“A lot of times, people ask me how to get their kids to like healthy foods. We’re not genetically predisposed to dislike certain foods. In fact, we’re predisposed to like the majority of them. The problem comes with the messages our culture gives us about certain foods.
“One day, I was out in the garden turning over a stone, and there were these big earthworms. I looked at my son, Noah, who was about 3 or 4 at the time, and said, ‘Do you want to eat one?’ He said, ‘Oh, you can’t eat worms — they’re gross.’
“Turns out, he had a children’s book with a page that says, ‘Candy is yummy, but worms are yucky.’ This is a kid who’s eaten bats with me, dung beetles. But he wouldn’t eat worms because he had gotten the cultural message that somehow that worm was yucky.
“Acquiring new tastes isn’t just important for your health, though. If we keep eating the same 15 vegetables, the same four meats and the same three fish, we’re going to create more of an extinctive forecast for ourselves than we’re already dealing with. We have to learn to eat little fish with the heads on them from local fishermen (you can always take the head off if you want).
“We have to learn to eat sea vegetables and to eat a greater roster of vegetables, including the ones that are sometimes bitter or sometimes have an odd texture, if we’re going to survive and cultivate a healthy food system.
“Here are a few suggestions (to eat better):
“Try new foods multiple times. A 2010 study found that children who, eight or nine times, tried a vegetable they didn’t like began to like it more.
“Try new preparation methods inspired by different cultures. One of the most popular preparations for kale, for example, is: Pick the kale younger, julienne it needle-thin, rub it with lemon juice and olive oil so it starts to break down, and toss it with some lemon juice, salt and Parmesan cheese.
“When in doubt, use a touch of fat, sugar and salt. I’m not entirely opposed to the sugar-fat-salt trick. My son didn’t like Brussels sprouts. I roasted them in the oven and then flash-sautéed them with a tablespoon or so of butter, a tablespoon or so of brown sugar and a couple of splashes of fish sauce. My son liked it.
“It’s OK to not like certain foods. Everyone gets to not like something. I don’t like walnuts, but I like lots of other nuts. We need to be OK with not liking things, but we really need to insist on widening our dietary choices and the global buffet from which we eat if we’re going to have food available for future generations. To do that, we’re going to need to acquire a taste for foods right now that we might not like.”